Sustaining university-community projects is a key challenge – University World News

Sustaining university-community projects is a key challenge – University World News.

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Leading light of university engagement outlines vision – University World News

Leading light of university engagement outlines vision – University World News.

Leading light of university engagement outlines vision

“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be a deputy vice-chancellor,” said Saran Kaur Gill, who fulfils just that elevated role at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, where she runs industry and community partnerships. She is also executive director of the regional university network AsiaEngage, which was launched last week.

Gill, a professor in the school of language studies and linguistics at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), started out some 30 years ago as a basic language instructor, and reflected modestly on her impressive career progression: “If I can do this, then anyone can,” she said.

Her role is unique, though. UKM, sited on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, is one of five universities in Malaysia with a deputy vice-chancellor in charge of civic engagement. The post was created by the Ministry of Higher Education in September 2007 to link the university with industry and communities.

The wider Asia region is the beneficiary of this and of Gill’s strong belief in what she is doing.

Among other high-powered international roles, she has been the originator and driving force behind AsiaEngage, a platform by means of which a group of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) universities as well as Asian higher education institutions, regional networks and programmes share expertise, knowledge and experience in community engagement.

The aim is to replicate successful models and best practices existing in universities in order to strengthen the civic role of universities across the region.

AsiaEngage’s first “Regional Conference on Higher Education-Industry-Community Engagement in Asia: Forging Meaningful Partnerships”, held from 7-9 May, was hosted at UKM.

Speaking to University World News at the conference, Gill said: “As long as a university shows an interest in community engagement, we will bring it on board to AsiaEngage so we can help with capacity building and the development of its community engagement initiatives.”

Working with industry challenges academics to come up with original and attractive ideas and proposals, she added. “You have to talk to industry about ideas that will really excite them.”

UKM strives to ensure that the knowledge of its academics is applicable to and benefits communities, and is also aligned with the university’s overall mission to contribute to nation-building.

Gill talks enthusiastically about case studies, including the Green Rose programme, a university collaboration with the PINTAR foundation to communicate the impacts of climate change to primary-school children. PINTAR is the philanthropic arm of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Malaysia’s national investment holding arm.

She cites leadership as key to successful partnerships. “An opportunity can only be translated into concrete reality if the leader is flexible, adaptable, able to meet tight deadlines, take instruction and develop a relationship that encourages knowledge sharing.”

Leaders must also be able to express knowledge with technical accuracy and in ways that have an impact. “It is essential to be sincere and giving, and to be able to develop trust and forge relationships with confidence,” Gill added.

“After all, as pointed out by the ministry, my role is to integrate engagement with communities and industries, to enrich and support the research, education and service missions of the university. And it is extremely valuable that we do this by giving with our hearts, hands and minds, back to society.”

“Because it was a new portfolio, no-one knew what to do with me, and neither did I have a clear direction. I also did not (at the time) have clear lines of authority over any of our students, researchers, staff or communities.”

Speaking of the management challenges, she said: “When you are given a new portfolio at the highest management levels, and the other portfolios have been in existence for over 20 years, you have to work collaboratively.”

But she defines her role as being a supportive one in which the industry and community engagement side of the university supports and engages education, research and services. However, “walls and territories need to be swept away and multidisciplinary and multiresponsibility initiatives built,” she said.

“I had to convince and persuade academics of the value of this field. I had to show them what we could do for them. It was not a situation of ‘Do as I say’. Instead it was ‘Work with us and we will be able to add value and strength to what we can do for you and society.’”


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Universities link to industry regionally to benefit the community – University World News

Universities link to industry regionally to benefit the community – University World News.

Hana Kamaruddin Issue No:221

University partnerships with industry can be scaled up across national boundaries in a wider region to benefit communities, a conference on academic links with business and populations through Asia heard on Monday.

Corporations “do not seem to serve society at large”, Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Wan Noordin conceded at the AsiaEngage “Regional Conference on Higher Education-Industry-Community Engagement in Asia. Forging Meaningful Partnerships”, being held from 7-9 May at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

“But there is a way for the two to work together to fulfil the corporate social responsibility objective,” said Wan Zahid, a member of the governing council of the Sime Darby Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Sime Darby Group – a major, government-linked corporation focused mainly on the palm oil business.

“Universities are also enthusiastic to reach out to communities,” he said, citing his foundation and UKM as an example of a fruitful university-industry partnership.

They are working together on innovative palm oil milling technology whose goal is zero emission of greenhouse gases and, ultimately, more sustainable practices in the industry.

UKM provides research capacity. The foundation is providing MYR15 million (USD4.91 million) funding in line with its preferred policy of backing studies based around the parent company’s core business strands.

Although companies responsible to shareholders were driven by profit motives, some aspects of industry required a great deal of research and universities have an army of researchers to do that, Wan Zahid noted.

Sime Darby Group commits at least 3% of its profit to the foundation’s corporate social responsibility initiatives and has already pledged MYR99.2 million this year, he said.

Its ongoing Zero Waste Technology project for palm-oil milling has now transcended regional boundaries and received support from the Netherlands, which has agreed to fund a European scientist to join the project, he revealed.

The project was “a wonderful example of a university-industry partnership,” said Professor Saran Kaur Gill, UKM’s deputy vice-chancellor for industry and community partnerships and executive director of AsiaEngage.

AsiaEngage is a platform for regional cooperation under which a group of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) regional networks and programmes share expertise, knowledge and experience in community engagement across the ASEAN region and Asia in general.

They include the Asia-Talloires Network of Industry and Community Engaged Universities, the ASEAN University Network’s thematic university social responsibility and sustainability network, and the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme and its associated universities.

AsiaEngage is driven by UKM through its office of industry and community partnerships and is supported by Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education.

“AsiaEngage aspires to use the same working model [as Sime Darby and UKM], but with industry players with regional business,” said Gill. “We want to jointly develop a model that can be replicated in the region.”

A global computer firm with a strong regional presence might be one example, she suggested. “They have the capacity to provide computers to regional communities but they can also forge a more meaningful and productive relationship with these communities. And I believe that this can stretch out to many areas.

“Given that they have a regional presence, they can then also work with different universities to jointly develop a workable private-partnership model.”


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“Baby Hatch” provides help for desperate mothers

A Malaysian non-profit works to end the tragedy of baby dumping.

By Hana Kamaruddin for Khabar Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur

May 02, 2012

By day, Zuhri Yahya is an executive at a bus advertising company. In his spare time, he works feverishly to save unwanted babies.

  • The Baby Hatch in Petaling Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, is a place where individuals can anonymously leave an unwanted baby. A sensor under the mattress immediately alerts an on-site caretaker to retrieve the baby; the closing of the door triggers lights and ventilation inside the hatch. After a week, babies are turned over to the State Welfare Organisation to start the adoption process. [Hana Kamaruddin/Khabar]

    The Baby Hatch in Petaling Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, is a place where individuals can anonymously leave an unwanted baby. A sensor under the mattress immediately alerts an on-site caretaker to retrieve the baby; the closing of the door triggers lights and ventilation inside the hatch. After a week, babies are turned over to the State Welfare Organisation to start the adoption process. [Hana Kamaruddin/Khabar]

  • Zuhri Yahya, centre, leads a group of children in a singing activity at RumahTitian Kasih shelter in Kuala Lumpur, where he teaches English on Sundays. Zuhri also heads the Abandoned Babies Awareness Project, educating young people about alternatives to abandoning unwanted babies. [Photo courtesy of Zuhri Yahya]

    Zuhri Yahya, centre, leads a group of children in a singing activity at RumahTitian Kasih shelter in Kuala Lumpur, where he teaches English on Sundays. Zuhri also heads the Abandoned Babies Awareness Project, educating young people about alternatives to abandoning unwanted babies. [Photo courtesy of Zuhri Yahya]

It all began in September 2010, when he was going about daily business in his car and encountered a big crowd at the roadside.

“When I stopped at the traffic light, I had the chance to see what was going on in the centre of the commotion,” Zuhri, 31, told Khabar Southeast Asia.” It was then when I saw a dead baby, covered in flies, being taken out of a garbage can. I just broke down and cried.”

Most people in such situations wipe away their tears and move on, but Zuhri took action, launching the Abandoned Babies Awareness Project (ABBA).

He was already volunteering at OrphanCARE, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation established in 2008 by the late Adnan Mohammad Tahir to expedite and de-stigmatise the adoption process.

In 2010, OrphanCARE opened its Baby Hatch, where unwanted babies can safely and anonymously be passed into state care.

The one-of-a-kind facility is located in OrphanCARE’s operations centre in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Petaling Jaya, about 30km east of central Kuala Lumpur. These days, Zuhri spends much of his time telling people about it and explaining how it works.

“A young, desperate mother comes to OrphanCARE with her newborn baby. She approaches the hatch, opens it and places her baby inside. A sensor immediately picks up the baby’s presence and triggers a buzzer and strobe light in the caretaker’s room,” he says.

The caretaker checks a closed circuit TV to confirm the presence of a baby and to check whether the woman has left, to ensure her anonymity. Then, the caretaker retrieves the baby.

“We then usually keep the babies for about 7-9 days until they are given to the State Welfare Organisation to start their adoption process,” Zuhri says.

Nine babies have been placed in the baby hatch since it was launched in 2010. Zuhri and other volunteers hope to save many more.

With mothers fearful of stigma, infants are left to die

According to data from the Royal Malaysian Police, 396 babies were abandoned in Malaysia between 2005 and 2011. In January 2012, 19 babies were abandoned; 13 of them survived, police say.

Shame or fear of punishment over a baby born out of wedlock is one cause of baby dumping, according to former minister of women, family and community development Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. In addition, babies born with disabilities are sometimes abandoned.

“The lack of religious education; no knowledge of available support services such as counseling services, being abandoned by the father of the baby, and mothers who are illegal immigrants with no proper documentation are some of the reasons why most people who resort to abandoning their babies do not seek help from the authorities or welfare departments,” she said.

“These babies are sometime left at waste dumps, drains, toilets and other unimaginable places,” says Zuhri.

Meanwhile, compounding the tragedy, around 1,000 Malaysian couples are currently waiting for adoption requests to be approved, he says.

“ABBA Heroes” educate youth

To bridge the gap, Zuhri organises what he calls “ABBA heroes” to speak to young people about baby abandonment and the existence of the baby hatch, and to provide a place for young people to talk about subjects like sex education and to seek help.

For funding and volunteers, Zuhri taps the Young Muslim Project, a group he belongs to where young people discuss life and faith and launch service projects and social events.

Last year, at a youth carnival, the ABBA team left baby dolls at several sites of the carnival. On the baby doll, it was written for the finder to return the baby doll to ABBA’s tent and its mock baby hatch.

“Once we got people to the booth, we explained about the existence and the mechanism of the baby hatch and informed them on the rampant case of babies being abandoned. Some of those who came also had a chance to consult with our volunteers and ask questions.”

Besides participating in youth events, ABBA also gives talks in schools. “Sometimes we talk about advocating abstinence and other times we talk about sex and the consequences. Yes, most of these kids don’t know that having unprotected sex can lead to unwanted pregnancy!”

Zuhri would like to see baby hatches set up in other locations in Malaysia and possibly in other countries.

“Baby abandonment is not an issue that is confined to Malaysia. Last month, two Sudanese students approached me about setting up a baby hatch centre in their country,” he said.

“I do hope that ABBA can grow and potentially save the lives of many innocent babies.”

*This article can be read at Khabar Southeast Asia

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Malaysia Islamic group encourages discussions on faith – Khabar Southeast Asia

Five years after its founding, the Young Muslims Project is giving Kuala Lumpur’s youth a platform for discussion on faith and life.

By Hana Kamaruddin for Khabar Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur – 09/03/12

In Malaysia, a young man had trouble finding answers to questions that always bothered him about what he should or shouldn’t do as a Muslim in this deeply religious nation.

“Growing up in Malaysia, you are not allowed to talk about anything in Islam, let alone query about it,” Muhammad Al-Amin bin Abdul Rahman told Khabar Southeast Asia. “Questions like ‘Is there a God?’ and ‘Why do we have to pray?’ are often answered with a ‘You shouldn’t ask that!'”

Now Amin, as his friends call him, is happy to have a forum that has provided him with a platform for open discussion on these subjects, considered taboo among the religious conservative elders and parents.

Begun five years ago in Kuala Lumpur, the Young Muslims Project (YMP) has given young urbanites the opportunity to gather in a safe space where their fellows are “sincerely open to accept as well as to embrace anyone who is interested to bridge a link with Islam”.

Amin is one of the founders of YMP – an organisation that aims to develop an open and thought-provoking environment, particularly for urban youths who are interested to learn about Islam.

Their website says “in mobilising youths towards a better understanding of Islam as a way of life, YMP strives to be the leading platform to have their voices heard and inspire others to be better Muslims”.

According to Amin, before the creation of the YMP, he was confronted with uncertainties about Islam. But more frustrating was the lack of an outlet or avenue in which he could discuss them.

It was this experience that drove him and his friend Kat, to start YMP five years ago.

The inaugural gathering drew fewer than 10 people. Since then, the group’s regular bi-weekly meetings, dialogue sessions and volunteering programmes have drawn more than 4,000 members.

“It was a great start to creating a platform and environment where young urbanites could ask questions and challenge each other, in hopes that it will enable us to understand more about Islam,” Amin told Khabar.

The group hosts four kinds of programmes to cater to different interests – Funtivities, Intellectual Discourse, Open Circle and Community Service.

The Funtivities and Community Service programmes bring the members out into the community for group activities. Funtivities consist of activities like scavenger hunts, paintball, ultimate frisbee and tea parties. The latter provides a platform for youths interested in volunteering for programmes like the Soup Kitchen, held four nights a week, to help feed KL’s homeless population.

The Intellectual Discourse and Open Circle programmes, on the other hand, bring YMP members together to discuss pertinent issues of faith and everyday life. During Intellectual Discourse sessions, speakers are invited to discuss issues relating to Islam. Past speakers have included marriage counsellors, life coaches, authors and religious leaders.

During Open Circle, YMP members can continue discussions from Intellectual Discourse or start new ones in an open and non-judgmental environment.

YMP also hosts “Ladies Only” activities. During a recent Open Circle Ladies Only discussion, a large group of YMP young women opened up about hardships and confidence.

“Life seemed surreal last Sunday. Like many at the event, I hadn’t even contemplated the existence of such a welcoming and intellectual group of sisters gathering for the purpose of self-betterment,” one participant wrote on the website’s blog.

Amin said although the gatherings are open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, they are particularly targeted to non-practicing young urbanite Muslims.

“We see this as a form of dakwah [preaching] to spread the virtues of Islam in a non-authoritative and non-condescending way. We want to lead by example and the best way is to assimilate into these youngsters’ way of life,” he added.

Since he started YMP, Amin said he has found peace with those internal conflicts over faith he once experienced. The resolution he sought in the first place wasn’t in the answers, but in the journey of seeking them, he said.

“The purpose of the YMP is not to give answers but to keep on questioning in a space where you won’t be judged or put-down for your different views. In fact, it is a place where you are free to make mistakes and learn from them.”

For more information on the group, visit their Young Muslims Project BlogSpot or Facebook page.

  • Amin, a dancer for Madonna, entertains members of the Young Muslims Project (YMP) at an Open Circle event held by the group. Amin, a Frenchman who converted to Islam, claims to have had discussions about faith with the singer. [Photo: Courtesy of Young Muslims Project] Amin, a dancer for Madonna, entertains members of the Young Muslims Project (YMP) at an Open Circle event held by the group. Amin, a Frenchman who converted to Islam, claims to have had discussions about faith with the singer. [Photo: Courtesy of Young Muslims Project]
  • In a typical setting for Open Circle, youths gather at a follower’s residence and discuss topics related to Islam.  [Photo: Courtesy of Young Muslims Project]  In a typical setting for Open Circle, youths gather at a follower’s residence and discuss topics related to Islam. [Photo: Courtesy of Young Muslims Project]
  • At a FUNtivity event, YMP followers fly kites at a park north of Kuala Lumpur. The organisation also has Intellectual Discourse discussions and Open Circle keynote speaker events, in addition to performing community service activities. [Photo: Courtesy of Young Muslims Project] At a FUNtivity event, YMP followers fly kites at a park north of Kuala Lumpur. The organisation also has Intellectual Discourse discussions and Open Circle keynote speaker events, in addition to performing community service activities. [Photo: Courtesy of Young Muslims Project]

This article can be read at Khabar Southeast Asia.

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Totto-chan – The Little Girl at the Window

I first read this book in January 2010 and I remembered how amused I was by it. It was light, entertaining and mostly heart-warming. Today, I revisited it. It was one of those times where I just took one look at the book (on my shelf) and decided to read it, just once more.

The book centres around Totto-chan, a pure-hearted but naughty girl who was lucky to be expelled from her first school and then transferred to another rather unusual school founded by an extraordinary and an equally unusual man. This man – Sosaku Kobayashi – is a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity.  What’s unique about the school, you ask? Well for one, their classrooms are made out of old railroad cars!

This book will tell you about Totto-chan’s childhood and about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom and love. The following is one of my most favourite chapters from the book, not only because it is funny, but it also reminds me of  how pure and  free  a child can be especially when it comes to love!

Chapter: His Bride

Totto-chan was very sad.

She was in third grade now and she liked Tai-chan a lot. He was clever and good at physics. He studied English and it was he who taught her the English word for fox.

“Totto-chan,” he had said,  “do you know what the English word forkitsune is? It’s ‘fox’.”


Totto-chan had luxuriated in the sound of that word all day long. After that, the first thing she always did when she got to the classroom-in-the-train was to sharpen all the pencils in Tai-chan’s pencil box as beautifully as she could with her penknife.  She didn’t bother about her own, which she just hacked at with her teeth.

In spite of all that, Tai-chan had spoken roughly to her. It happened during lunch break. Totto-chan was sauntering along behind the Assembly Hall in the region of that notorious cesspool.


Tai-chan’s voice sounded cross, and she stopped, startled. Pausing for breath, Tai-chan said, “When I grow up, I’m not going to marry you, no matter how much you ask me to.” So saying, he walked off, his eyes on the ground.

Totto-chan stood dazed, watching until he and his large head disappeared from the view. That head full of brains that she admired so much. That head that looked so much bigger than his body the children used to call him “The Improper Fraction.”

Totto-chan put her hands in her pockets and thought. She could not remember doing anything to annoy him. In desperation she talked it over with her classmate Miyo-chan. After listening to Totto-chan, Miyo-chan said, maturely, “Why, of course! It’s because you threw Tai-chan out of the ring today at sumo wrestling. It’s not surprising he flew out of the ring the way he did because his head’s so heavy. But he’s still bound to be mad at you.”

Totto-chan regretted it with all her heart. Yes, that was it. What on earth made her beat the boy she liked so much she sharpened his pencils every day? But it was too late.  She could never be his bride now.

“I’m going to go on sharpening his pencils all the same,” Totto-chan decided. “After all, I love him.”

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Do you hear them when they cry? – Winner of the 3-Month January 2011 In-class Sports & Specialist Blog Competition

I was expecting to be bored and disinterested when I stepped into our Sports & Specialist Blog class. It was in April 2011, and the weather in London was its normal cold, wet and gray. I, too, was cold and tired from the weeks’ of intensive running around chasing for stories for our writing portfolio. And I wasn’t looking forward to an hour of sports journalism chit chatting and the know-hows. I’ve come to realize, nay, accept, that I may never be a sports expert, what more a sports journalist!

Then, in came our instructor, Ross Biddiscombe, who is an established sports journalist and book author.

Lo and behold, what d’ya know! Ross expounds that sports journalism isn’t about being a sports expert. In fact, he says, in journalism, the most essential ingredient is contacts.

Yes, the contacts that you establish from the people that you meet are as essential as this pc you utilize to scribe your stories. You see, journalism is essentially about talking to people. You can’t be a journalist and write a story without talking to people. And if you have good contacts, the better chance for you to churn out a good story. Because people want to read about good people. Whether they’re famous, intelligent, nice, etc etc, we want to read a story that involves other people, especially of ourselves.

Ross also went on to say that anyone, too, can be a specialist writer and create a blog (since it was a class on sports & specialist blog). As long as you have an interest, you are well on your way to being a specialist in that subject. Ultimately, what is important isn’t the subject, but our voice in that subject – much like the opinions of columnists that you see in the newspaper.

 So here it is. My sports and specialist blog entry for our class, and I won! (Ross made us all compete against each other to create a specialist blog entry). I hope that this will inspire you to start writing on your interest and be a specialist!



The winner of the 3-Month January 2011 In-class Sports & Specialist Blog Competition is Hana Kamaruddin:

Specialist blog: Do you hear them when they cry?

Refugees, wheelchair users, street children, homeless and the poor. These are among the communities that are being sidelined in Malaysia. There are a recorded more than a million of them in the country but, the issues that they are facing are still almost unheard. Thanks to advocators like the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM), their hope of a better and dignified life seems not just wishful thinking.

Also, last month saw actor Zahiril Adzim, 27, and director and scriptwriter Faisal Mustaffa, 40, who’s passion for disempowered Malaysians got them to produce a documentary titled Demand Dignity. The documentary highlights poverty and human rights issues that are happening in the street of Kuala Lumpur – a contrast to the usual bustling booming city it is viewed as. The film was shown at one-day film festival organised by AIM in conjunction with Valentine’s Day.

As for myself, I am in the midst of publishing my book about 10 people from different marginalised communities in Malaysia. It started when I took care of a wheelchair-bound friend for eight months. During those months, I was appalled at how difficult it was for him to move about or even to hold a job. In other words, he was refused the right to living like a normal human being, to a dignified life.

I suppose the emerging number of works in Malaysia is a sign that these issues are gaining momentum and the respect it needed. My hope is that these works, like the film and of course my soon-to-be-published work will not be in vain and make a difference in the lives of the marginalised people.

Hana Kamaruddin

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Interracial Relationships… what do you think?

by Hana Kamaruddin, Simisola Adebosin and Natale Cassano

Love is blind, love has no color, love lies in the heart, all you need is love..etc etc .. I can go on and on!
In reality, are those words really true? Let’s hear the opinions of three people of three different races and nationality on interracial relationships.

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Do you hear them when they cry? – Part 2

Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees.

 It is dark, cold and stifling in the fishing boat. Thida shifts his seating position to relieve the pressure on his behind from sitting with no adequate back support for too long. They’ve been in the sea for 3 days. He knows this because he has been observing and keeping count of the sunsets and sunrises since they left the shores of Myanmar. Thida Ye, a 30-year-old man, is one of the 700,000 Myanmar refugees fleeding the country out of fear of prosecution by the government. They are hoping to find salvation in a nearby country – Malaysia.

Thida will soon discover that the life that is waiting for him in Malaysia is nearly as tragic the one he left behind. Earlier this year, Malaysia’s Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein disclosed in a parliamentary debate that Malaysia had caned 29,759 foreigners between 2005 and 2010 for immigration offences alone. Stories of abuse and torture among refugees by Malaysian authorities are what Thida will be hearing from his comrades once he steps foot on this country.

As I spoke to him in his home, Thida reveals that Myanmar refugees are facing wretched existence in Malaysia. Not only are they living in fear of abuse and extortion from Malaysian authorities, they have also had to deal with stigmatisation from the local community.

“Once, my brother and I were walking to the nearby market when a local man started shouting at us. He knew we were refugees. He was barking foul words at us calling us ‘dog’, and ‘filthy’. He accused us of spreading diseases in this country,” Thida recounts his experience and shakes his head in disbelief.

He believes that this is a result of the Malaysian government’s refusal to recognise refugees in the country. Malaysia is not one of the signatory to the 1951 UN Geneva Convention, which protects the fundamental rights of refugees. Because of this, refugees are considered ‘illegal’ with no distinction between them and undocumented economic immigrants.

“My brother and I, we’ve been detained and released for countless of times. We have become ‘experts’ at dealing with this. That is why I save up on cash from whatever work I can find. I once paid an immigration officer RM5,000 (£1,000) for the release of my brother from detention. I wish I could say that the other detainees got their release too but that is exactly what it is – wishful thinking,” he said.

According to Thida, detainees are often abused or extorted in exchange of basic items like food, hygiene products and – like in the case of his brother – freedom. But even the freedom that these refugees attained, he says, are sometimes short-lived or even worse, non-existent.

“They treat as if we are not humans. After all, we are virtually non-existent because we don’t have proper documentations. We do not have passports as our own country refuse to accept us. On the other hand, this country (Malaysia) refuses to acknowledge our status as refugees. We are like ghosts,” Thida remarks frustratingly.

Security, food, hygiene and medical help are among the needs Myanmar refugees lack access to in this country. Without an ID, Thida and his fellow community member find it impossible to hold a job. Even when jobs are offered, employers often pay them pittance because they know that they will not be penalised for it.

“Many of us walk in the streets in fear. Fear that an authority officer will catch us and threaten to deport us back to our country. Fear that a local will discover our illegal status and treat us like we are not human beings. They think we are here by choice. They think that we are criminals. They even think that we are infested with diseases to an extent where some don’t even want to come near us.

“But what most people don’t know is that we don’t have a choice. We left our country because we were being discriminated by our own government and most of the time refugees are people who escape execution or life-term imprisonment.

“Going back to our own country is not a viable choice. On the other hand, we cannot leave this country safely because we don’t have any passport or legal documentation. As a result, we are like people with no identity. What is scary is that, an identity-less man is a man stripped off of his basic rights. These include the right to earning to one’s own living, protection and many more.”

Thida stresses again that the problem lies in the refusal of the Malaysian government in recognising the status of refugees.

“There are more than a million refugees residing in this country and they are all open to discrimination, abuses, extortions and other heinous treatment!”

“We just want to feel safe. It is unfair to treat or judge us based on our status. We are not here by choice. Being refugees, we are victims of discrimination in our own country. Given that fact, we only ask that we are treated like other normal people. We did not come here to be criminals or spread diseases. It is the conditions that induces some to conduct crimes but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all refugees are criminals.”

Thida adds that a safety ward is what they want the most. “Imagine walking on the street with fear that anyone can just take you away and do whatever they want with you. You are practically non-existent because there are no records or files of you. You are being denied to have an identity.”

Thida cites some cases where Myanmarese women refugees are raped and abused by officials.

“We have no where and no one to go to. By not recognising our status, we are being denied to proper protection.”

“Malaysia and Malaysians need to know and realize that bottom-line, refugees are human beings too that were denied their rights in their own country. As a developing country, it is unfair to deny ad judge refugees their basic right to freedom and protection.


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Top British Stars raise £8,000 for charity

Top British stars gathered to raise £8,000 for a writing and human rights charity network, earlier this month, at the Kilburn Tricycle Theatre. Sir Ben Kingsley, Dame Harriet Walter, Bill Patterson and Mathew Macfayden were among the celebrities to read from books that inspired the former and current president of the network.

“It is a great honour to be involved in this evening with two great writers who recognise the importance of supporting voices that are unheard and suppressed. As actors, we are indebted to writers for the significant role they play in our working lives,” said Patterson after the performance.

The stars read excerpts from Tolstoy, Salman Rushdie, Philip Rothman and Carol Ann Duffy, among others, in their own unique talent way in support of the English PEN Network.

Lisa Appignanesi was president of the network for 4 years before handing over her title to Gillian Slovo at the intimate but star-studded evening.

“Tonight is about sharing the great joy that literature can bring to our lives and I am fascinated to see the inspiring energy that it has created. PEN is about promoting the freedom to write and read and it has been an honour to lead this great effort,” said Appignanesi.


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